As stem cell research becomes more sophisticated, scientists are increasingly using organoids to discover more about human organs.
Organoids are smaller and simpler versions of human organs, a 3D cluster of tissue created from stem cells. Using the cells’ built-in genetic instructions, organoids could eventually develop into a structure that simulates a particular organ, although developments are still very limited. While organoids are not as complex as actual human organs, they are the next best thing to studying a functional organ that doesn't require invasive procedures or experiments on a live human.
The technology is relatively still young at only about ten years old. However, scientists are hopeful that organoids could one day be the key to understanding the human body and why certain diseases develop. More importantly, organoids could be used to develop potential cures to a variety of diseases without the excessive use of animal testing.
Currently, organoids are being used to study rare diseases and therapeutic studies, and the technology keeps getting better. In August 2021, researchers from UCLA were able to "grow" a brain organoid that mimics neural activity or brainwaves. This development is considered a breakthrough as the brain is one of the most complex organs that require different neurons and stimuli to function. Scientists think that over time, the technology will be developed enough to mimic complex organs such as the heart and brain.
There is also potential in the personalized treatment space, as organoids could be created from the actual cells of a person that has a rare disease, enabling doctors to study a near replica. But this also highlights the organoids' limitations, as they cannot be created in a uniform, consistent environment. This makes it difficult for researchers to compare notes.
Applications for organoids
Example applications for organoids may include:
- Detailed studies of organs, where researchers create a batch of organoids to perform different treatment experiments.
- Novel drug treatment studies, by adjusting different cells inside an organoid to interact with different types of chemicals.
- Cell engineering, where scientists could induce organoids to develop into other structures.
Questions to comment on
- Do you think organoids could eventually be developed enough to become organ replacements? Why or why not?
- Would you be willing to receive an organoid transplant?